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REVIEW: U2 provides lots of thrills at Sam Boyd Stadium

Sixteen songs in, he spelled out the theme of the evening — and maybe even that of an entire career — over a mean-spirited beat hard enough to make Play-Doh out of spinal columns.

“The right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear,” U2 frontman Bono boomed as if his innards had been replaced with dynamite. GRADE: A

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The song was a scorched Earth remix of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” which went from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde live, all galloping bass lines and fist-to-the-gut rhythms.

It was enough to knock the wind right out of the capacity crowd of around 40,000 on Friday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, where U2’s “360° Tour” touched down in a tornado of light, sound and anticipation.

The song was an encapsulation of the high-wire act that has long defined these dudes, a heterogeneous mix of the over-the-top and the pointedly absurd with a studiously cultivated humanism fixated on real world concerns.

“Every generation gets a chance to change the world,” Bono noted during the same song as he bounced around the stage like he was coated in rubber, addressing a crowd that included both Bill Clinton and Paris Hilton.

But for the most part, this night was less about changing the world than reveling in all the pomp, indulgence and vicarious thrills that rock ’n’ roll can provide when it lives up to its promises.

“I don’t want to talk about wars between nations,” Bono announced early on in the show during a storming “Get On Your Boots.”

And he would mostly stay true to those words until shortly before the first encore, when he dedicated a reflective “Walk On” to imprisoned Burmese revolutionary figure Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The song ended with a series of crowd members donning masks of the incarcerated politician and marching around the circular runway that formed the perimeter of the massive stage.

Perhaps U2’s greatest skill is their ability to take big ideas and even bigger venues and render them something much more intimate and approachable than their surfaces might suggest.

At Sam Boyd Stadium, they shrunk the football field in half with a giant, cylindrical video screen that eventually descended down in a flashing cone of color.

Similarly, they did their best to minimalize the distance between themselves and the audience, with Bono pulling a young boy up out of the crowd at one point and running around the stage with him in a sort of victory lap before sending the kid back to the floor with a pair of his sunglasses in hand.

Likewise, their repertoire aims to have it both ways as well, cloaking grandeur in ringing, deceptively simple guitar lines and chant-worthy choruses.

Mining a third of the set from their most recent album “No Line on the Horizon,” a moody, mercurial record with occasional bursts of vitality, the band really dug their heels into the title cut and a growling “Magnificent” in particular, with Bono laying his motives bare on the latter song.

“I was born to sing for you,” he howled. “I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up.”

At one point, he even urged the crowd to defy the laws of physics.

“Escape yourself, and gravity,” he sang on the slow-simmering “Unknown Caller.”

“Shout for joy if you get the chance,” he added later on in the tune.

The crowd took his marching orders well, singing along loudly to favorites like “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” clasping one another in their arms and swaying to and fro during an emotionally charged “One.”

A half hour later, the show concluded with Bono posing a question to the audience.

“(Is it) fate or luck?” he asked, seemingly pondering the operating principles behind the evening’s good fortunes.

But as with the dueling forces that drive this band — humility and hubris, the superficial and the sincere — here in Vegas, we all know there’s no real difference between the two.

Contact Jason Bracelin at 383-0476 or e-mail him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com.

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